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Cost of operating a car heading upward in 2015

The cost of operating a car in Chicago — even if it’s not yours — will go up in 2015. And so will the price of taking a Metra train.

Chicago taxes on parking garages, valet services, car-leasing and ride-sharing all will rise Jan. 1, as will tolls on the Chicago Skyway. An on Feb. 1, Metra riders will face an average fare increase of nearly 11 percent.

As of the first of the year, Chicago’s parking tax will tower over that of posh Manhattan, where the rate tops out at 18.375 percent.

Chicago’s garage and parking lot tax will rise 2 percentage points, to 22 percent on weekdays and to 20 percent on weekends. That’s a 10 to 11 percent jump.

Add on the current, unchanged Cook County tax of 6 percent for up to 24 hours of parking and 9 percent for weekly or monthly parking, and drivers will face a 26 to 29 percent tax to park a car in a public garage or parking lot in Chicago.

Behind only Pittsburgh

The new tax on Chicago parking “is one of the highest of any of the major cities,” said Monica Meltzer, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Parking Association, a consortium of parking garage operators. Meltzer thinks it is exceeded only by Pittsburgh’s 2014 rate of 37.5 percent — a rollback from a 50 percent rate that she said “decimated business” in downtown Pittsburgh.

The 2015 Chicago tax is “problematic for restaurants, hotels, theaters — any place that relies on customers to come in and park their cars,” Meltzer said. “People will factor in ‘Do I want to come downtown and go to the theater or dinner when it costs more to park downtown?’ ”

Garages and parking lots could choose to absorb the new city tax, but if they raise their rates, they’re required to post the correct cost at garage entrances.

City Hall officials sold the third parking tax increase in nearly four years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a way to reap $10 million for year-round pothole and street repair following 2014′s brutal, street-damaging winter.

Valet parking also will cost more in 2015. The city expects to produce an additional $2 million by requiring a 20 percent tax on every car parked by a valet.

Previously, valets paid no tax if they found a metered or free spot. Or if they parked a car in a pay garage, they paid a city tax on what the garage charged them — usually something less than what they charged customers. As of Jan. 1, valets must pay a 20 percent tax on the amount they charge every customer, regardless of where the car is parked.

Also on Jan. 1, taxes on leasing a car in Chicago will increase from 8 to 9 percent, and those trying to cut costs or protect the environment by car-sharing also could face higher bills.

Car-leasing taxes will finally kick in for car-sharing companies, which initially were exempted from the tax. A spokeswoman for one of the largest such companies — Zipcar — declined to say whether it would pass on the tax to its customers in the form of higher rates.

Highest truck toll rate per mile in U.S.

Chicago drivers will have to dig deeper on the Chicago Skyway as of Jan. 1, when tolls will increase 12.5 percent for cars and about 20 percent for truck drivers.

The 7.8-mile connection between Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expy. and the Indiana Toll Road will jump 50 cents for car drivers — to $4.50. Trucks with three to seven or more axles will see tolls rise to between $15.20 and $35.30 one way during peak hours.

In fact, the Skyway’s 2015 rate of $2.69 per mile for a five-axle truck will be the highest per truck mile in the country, according to one Illinois Tollway analysis.

The increased tolls will fill the coffers of the Skyway Concession Company, which has been operating the Skyway since 2005 under a 99-year lease that reaped the City of Chicago $1.83 billion.

The increase is the second one for Tollway drivers in two years. Skyway car tolls also jumped 50 cents on Jan. 1, 2013.

“It’s terrible,” said Ken Milton, 68, who has been driving his wife to and from their home in Whiting, Ind., to her Chicago Loop office every weekday. The new tolls would add $10 a week to those trips.

“That was the tipping point. My wife had a choice to retire. She’s going to retire,” Milton said. “I’m not using the Skyway.”

Next year, car drivers won’t face higher tolls on the Illinois Tollway, but truck drivers will. Starting Jan. 1, a series of phased toll increases will kick in for commercial trucks and trailers. Those tolls will jump 40 percent on Jan. 1 — and an additional 10 percent in 2016 and 2017 from 2014 rates. Beginning in 2018, annual toll rate increases for trucks and trailers will be linked to the Consumer Price Increase.

Illinois Tollway officials say an estimated $148 million more in tolls and evasion recovery fees from the 2015 truck toll increases will help fund the system’s massive Move Illinois and Congestion Relief Program.

That includes such projects as the rebuilding of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (Interstate 90), a new interchange to connect the Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) to Interstate 57 and the all-electronic Elgin O’Hare Western Access project, which has reduced travel times by adding open-road tolling, creating more lanes, restoring the majority of the system and completing a long-awaited south extension of Interstate 355 into Will County.

Tollway officials noted that a fully loaded truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, causing more damage to roads than cars.

Metra fares on rise

Although CTA customers will not see a fare increase in 2015, starting Feb. 1 Metra rail customers will see fares jump an average 10.8 percent — the first of 10 years of planned fare increases. The added revenues are needed to bankroll an overhaul of virtually the entire Metra fleet, new safety mandates and an estimated 3 percent increase in annual operating costs, Metra officials say.

Over a decade, the price of a Metra ticket could jump an average 68 percent under the 10-year plan, although officials note that the cost of gas has gone up even more than that in the last decade.

But Metra is bringing back the popular 10 rides for the price of nine; extending the life of one-way tickets from 14 to 90 days; and allowing monthly tickets to be valid until noon on the first business day of the following month.

A glimmer of good news for drivers emerged in the form of gas prices. On Christmas, the AAA put the average price of retail gasoline at its lowest level in more than five years, with the national average for unleaded regular at $2.33 a gallon.